Editorial: Difficult Difficulty Decisions

How does one decide the level of challenge they want to endure in a video game? At one point do they have to take pause and think to themselves that there reaches a point where the difficulty takes over the enjoyment of the game? In an era where every game with even a modicum of difficulty is compared to an entry in the “Dark Souls” franchise, it is no wonder that developers leave the choice to the player as not to upset them with hardships. But really, different games have different ways of letting players choose the difficulty level they have to get through and this editorial is about three different games and their methods of challenging the player.

Zombies and barrels and guns. A vast improvement over the original body of work.

Just like Sophie’s Choice but with zombies.

First up in the tantalizing trio is none other than Resident Evil 4 which stands out as having a more active difficulty system than most games. Although “Professional” mode can be unlocked by beating the game once and PAL copies of the game did include an “Easy” mode, NTSC players who played the original game were suprised to see there was no initial option for difficult level. This led to everyone starting on “Normal” difficulty yet those who had more and less skill when it came to the game had comparable experiences in terms of difficulty (to an extent). This is due to the fact that Resident Evil 4 actively monitored the player’s progression through the game and if they were finding it to be too much of a challenge (getting hit and/or dying) the game would then make enemies weaker, spawn less of them, and also make them drop more ammo. Vice versa, if the player was finding it to be a cakewalk enemies would drop less ammo, spawn more frequently, and also take more damage. Though, this increased difficulty would only make the game harder by so much, as “Professional” difficulty was still the next bump up in challenge. Although this is not the only game to do so, Resident Evil 4 is unique in that the process in which the difficulty shifts is so complex and subtle it continues to be monitored to this day because of well it was implemented.

This is a legitimate question that deserves to be answered.

Do the floating eye monsters have any sense of depth perception?

Next up is Kid Icarus: Uprising, the return of Pit after a twenty year abscence and the arrival of a confusing control scheme that led to the game being packaged with a peripheral specifically made for playing the game. Control difficulty aside, Kid Icarus: Uprising had the unique feature of letting the player choose the level of difficulty they wanted to tackle before each individual stage. This selection is based on the level of hearts the player has, hearts being the game’s currency. The player can effectively bet on their own performance before each stage to see how well they will do against stronger enemies. If they prove to be successful and do not die in the stage, they will be rewarded with an exorbitant amount of hearts depending on how high they set the Intensity (the game’s term for difficulty). However, if the player dies the Intensity drops and the player then loses some of the hearts they bet at the beginning of the stage. The lower the intensity, the less return on investment the player receives; meaning that it would take them even longer to upgrade and unlock new in-game weapons if they consistently played on a lower Intensity level. If the player wanted a daunting challenge, they could set the game up to 9.0 difficulty before each stage. On the flip side, if the player was not confident in their skills whatsoever they could set the difficulty to a mere 0.0 where blowing on the enemies would seem to defeat them.

It did not go anywhere.

Adeki spent a long time trying to think of a joke for this picture.

Last up is the indie title Risk of Rain which has actually has two difficultly settings, one that the player directly chooses and the other being one the player indirectly chooses. At the start of the game the player can pick between “Drizzle,” “Rainstorm,” and “Monsoon,” which are no doubt tongue in cheek references to the game’s titular component and stand for “Easy,” “Normal,” and “Difficult,” respectively. These difficulty choices affect the player’s starting amount of currency, health, how frequently bosses spawn, how much items and upgrades cost, how much damage enemies do, and how fast the scaling difficulty ramps up. After this initial difficulty has been selected there is a scaling difficulty element once gameplay has begun. For every minute in an area (or less depending on how hard the player initially wanted the game to be), the game’s difficulty ramps up. This is shown through the game’s HUD on the right which has a thermometer-esque apperance that ranges from “Very Easy” to “HAHAHAHA.” If the player stays in the area for too long looking for treasures enemies will spawn more frequently and also do more damage to the player. This then leaves the player to have to make the call of whether or not to continue exploring an area, or leaving it for next time when they inevitably die and have to go through it again. Similar to the aforementioned Kid Icarus: Uprising, these is a risky system that can either heavily reward the player for skill or punish them leaving them unable to buy or upgrade items.

So that is that for this week’s editorial. Have you played any of these games? Do you have a favorite game when it comes to choosing/assigning difficulty that was not mentioned in this editorial? Maybe you even have a suggestion for a future editorial. Whatever the case may be make sure to leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

3 comments on “Editorial: Difficult Difficulty Decisions”

  1. I’ve been playing all of the Persona games on Easy difficulty, ever since playing halfway through 3 and not being able to progress because I hadn’t made the exact right decisions for fusions or something. I don’t need to be playing parts of a 100-bour RPG over and over while constantly consulting a FAQ, I just want to enjoy it. Easy for Persona is still a little more difficult than Final Fantasy VI or VII anyways.

  2. How does one decide the level of challenge they want to endure in a video game?

    Pick the hardest available setting and go from there.

    There, solved that for you.

  3. @Tanzenmatt: Agreed! Persona games are a time investment and although I haven’t played 3 playing 4 on normal difficulty was brutal for my time around. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had a good 40 extra hours put into 4 compared to 5 just because of the difficulty!

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